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Carl Axel Gottlund

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Gottlund, Carl Axel (1796–1875), scholar, Finland, Sweden.

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compiled by Risto Pulkkinen

Carl Axel Gottlund (1796--1875) was a multi-scholar, explorer, writer and cultural politician in the 19th century Sweden and Finland. He was one of the central Finnish national awakeners and later, one of the leading dissidents at the same time. By his contemporaries he was called 'The most troublesome man in Finland'. Gottlund is usually mentioned in connection with the so-called Forest Finns of the Central Scandinavia because he saved their folklore and also tried to act as a national awakener among them.

Gottlund was born in 1796 in the family of a Finnish clergyman Mattias Gottlund. The father was one of the most outstanding representatives of the Enlightenment ideas in Finland and Carl Axel was raised up in the spirit of the Enlightenment. Later he made acquaintance with the ideas of the Romanticism and he willingly considered himself as a romantic but the basic structure of his thinking always and especially in his old age represented rationalistic Enlightenment ideals.

The family lived in Juva, eastern Finland since 1805. The language of the family was Swedish because of the Swedish speaking mother but in the Finnish speaking neighbourhood Carl Axel became Finnisized or rather Savolaxized, although he never learned neither Finnish or Savolax dialect perfectly. In his childhood Gottlund spent his time mostly with the peasant children and also later on was easy and natural to him to get along with the ordinary people.

C.A.G. was a narcissistic personality with built-in and true democratic ideals. Both of these things led him to serious struggles in his future life. His landscape of mind represented very contrasted black-and-white type, as it by definition is with a narcissistic personality in general. In his world things were sharply divided into good and bad things. The good things were his own, they belonged to him with the presupposition that he was able to control all these things. At the same time they became strongly idealized. The bad things represented the outer world, they were things that he could not control and usually they were in his mind associated to various authorities. All the hatred, anger and jealousy was projected to them which, again, made them look like even more threatening. -- In addition to that, Gottlund seems to have suffered from unconscious father hatred that further sharpened his anger towards all authorities and institutions.

Gottlund went to continue his studies to Uppsala. There he made acquaintance with the leading Swedish Romantics Atterbom and Palmblad who were the men behind the literary magazine Svensk Litteratur-Tidning. His scientific career begun in the magazine. German Friedrich Rühs had written the book Finland und seine Bewohner (Finland and its inhabitants) in 1809 and in 1813 it was published in Swedish. Palmblad asked Gottlund to write a review of it in the magazine in 1817.

Gottlund was supposed to write mainly about Finnish mythology that Rühs had been dealing with and that was the main topic of interest of the Romantics. That Gottlund also did in the spirit of the Schellingian spiritual development theory with its idea of the Golden Age of the mankind. Gottlund suggested that the Finns in their folk poetry and mythology in a special way had preserved the memories of the ancient high standard of spiritual life in the early immediate contact with the god. In connection with Rühs' review, Gottlund also made his famous proposal that an epic could be put together out of the Finnish folk poems -- a brave vision that the editor of Kalevala, Elias Lönnrot, later so successfully forgot. An important consequence of the Rühs project was that Gottlund found the Forest Finns of the central Scandinavia. There was an account concerning them in Rühs' book.

The Finnish emigrants began to move to central Sweden from the 1580s. They were encouraged to move by the Swedish crown in order to make the vast border areas of the kingdom inhabited. The people of Savolax in Finland was famous for its skills in slash-and-burn agriculture and so especially they were persuaded to move. A seven years tax release was promised to them as an attraction. The situation of the Forest Finns was soon worsened in a dramatic manner. The primitive iron industry was growing in the beginning of the 17th century and charcoal was needed for its purposes. The Finns with their slash-and-burn agriculture were suddenly considered as an ecological threat. The burning of the forests was officially forbidden in 1647 and the Finns were obliged to support the iron factories with the charcoal to a minimum price. In the end of the 18th century the very existence of the Forest Finns was forgotten and they were considered to have incorporated into the Swedish population. But they were not, as was clearly shown by Carl Axel Gottlund. It has been estimated that in the beginning of the 19th century there were about 40.000 Finns in central Scandinavia, of which about 14.000 in Värmland.

Gottlund made two trips to the Forest Finns, the first in 1817 to Dalarna and the second, a longer one in 1820--21 to Värmland. He collected folklore and other ethnographic data as well as geneaological information. The last mentioned thing was partly because he wanted to improve the social circumstances of the Finns and to prevent the Sweden from taking their land ownings. -- He also had his famous diaries or journals where he carefully describes his activities also in the field of sexual intercourse. The most naturalistic parts were written in a cryptographic way. These diaries were so hard stuff that it was not until 1980's that they were in extenso published in any language. The diaries also clearly reveal symptoms of his grandiosity. His extremely high self-esteem is repeatedly to be seen as well as his compulsory need to win, to be best at every situation that in a way or another, explicitly or implicitly meant comparison to others.

His good-willing social and political activity for the benefit of the Finns finally got unrealistic features. The Swedes suspected that he wanted to establish a state within the state. And that really was what he was doing. He wanted to make the Finn Forests on both sides of the Swedish-Norwegian border to a autonomous area with great economical and political independence. The tax border would have been removed and the land ownership of the Swedes and Norwegians would have been restricted. The iron factories would have been expelled. He himself was to become the vicar of the planned Finnish parish. All these plans failed and Gottlund himself was exiled from Stockholm to Uppsala. -- In spite of this total political failure, Gottlund had positive cultural influence on the Finn Forests. Many Finns were not any more so ashamed of their native language and Gottlund himself became a legendary, heroic character in the Woods. The books donated by him were widely used and sponsored interest towards the old language among the Finns. The correspondence between Gottlund and some leading Forest Finns continued till his death in 1875.

After the active political work for the Forest Finns was over Gottlund took another great challenge: to write the first major literary and popular scientific book in Finnish language. He wanted to show that Finnish language is good for any purpose; that it is possible to express all dimensions of high culture in Finnish. The work that took many years and in which Gottlund got next to no help from others resulted in these two volumes of Otava [the Charles' wain or Big Dipper], printed in 1828/1831 and 1832. The first printing of the volume I was a very magnificent one with many hand coloured pictures and a showy cover. But a fire destroyed that printing except a couple on tens of exemplars. These exemplars belong today to the the most highly valued Finnish books in book auctions in Finland. The second printing in 1831 was more modest. Gottlund's Otava was supposed to be the magnum opus of the new Finnish literature to be established. The success was not as great as Gottlund had hoped, and, anyway, it has the status only till 1835 when Lönnrot's old Kalevala came out. That was the second great disappointment in Gottlund's life.

Gottlund came back to Finland in 1834 after having taken no university degree. Obviously he did not fully realize the development that had taken place in Finland and that was taking place there when it comes to the refining of the Finnish language and the Finnish culture in general. He was a national hero, but idea historically he already belonged to the previous generation. There were fresh names like Elias Lönnrot, the author of the Kalevala, the linguist Matias Aleksanteri Castrén, the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg etc. who were the up and coming ones and Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura -- The Finnish Literary Society -- was established in 1835 to support Lönnrot in his work. Gottlund's tragedy was that he did not want to be just a pre-historical hero of the Finnish culture but the leading authority. Gottlund, however, got the university lectorate in the Finnish language in 1839 due to his practical merits, especially due to Otava. But this was not enough to Gottlund. He never really got over the fact that Kalevala had pushed his Otava away from the stage.

In 1840 he published a new epic to replace Kalevala. The epic was named Runola, freely translated 'The land of the Rune-singers'. Runola was a curious mixture of Classical and Romantic elements with very slight connection to the real Finnish folklore. In it Gottlund established a Pantheon, or rather a Valhalla for the Finns. Runola itself was the Valhalla of the greatest Rune-singers, who there spent their time fighting with the words, with the runes, likes Odins heroes kept on fighting with their swords in the Scandinavian Valhalla.. There were many very roughly erotic motifs and metaphors in his text probably partly due his early folklore collections and partly to his own all the time a little bit overstressed sexuality and finally, partly to his general liberalism in which he was a century ahead his time. The epic was a disaster and it destroyed Gottlund's reputation.

After Runola, Gottlund clearly had a declining career. He published a couple of newspapers in which the main problem was his incorrect Savolax dialect. In this field he also managed to be the true pioneer, but the glory was given to his followers. He also tried three times to get the professorship in the Finnish language after the chair was established in 1850. Last time he tried in 1863, when he was already 69 years old. That he never succeeded in getting the chair finally become a demonizing factor to him. In 1864 he published a furious pamphlet against all his enemies under the title Läsning för Finnar, 'Reading for the Finns'. Gottlund's oedipal-narcissistic rage against all institutions that were out of the reach of his control, like Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura and the university consistorium, was manifestated there.

As a cultural politician Gottlund fell between the front lines. He did not want to make Finnish language the prevailing language in Finland, as the so-called fennomans did, but he wanted that both languages, Swedish and Finnish language, freely would be allowed to develop side by side, as well as all the Finnish dialects, too. For the fennomans Gottlund was too liberal and for the liberals -- who in practice were Swedish speaking -- he, after all, was too Finnish minded.

He also tried as an archaeologist. He made a promising start. He got two major awards from the state in 1859--60 for the archaeology. He also free-willingly gave lectures in the field. He was near getting the chair in archaeology that time, indeed. But he again destroyed his reputation with a wild interpretation concerning his findings in which the remnants of a fishing cabin were transformed into remnants of a Viking time fortress.

In the 1870's he was still busy writing but anybody wouldn't any more want to publish his texts. He, however, gave out some booklets on his own financiation. The corpus of manuscripts that he left behind is enormous. It is preserved in the archive of Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.


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